Query Critique: Halfway to Anywhere

The query:

After three days of lying in bed with her life crumbling around her, college freshman Stephanie Miller needs to get out of her room before she goes insane. She decides to go to the One Force House; a guy she’d met recently had told her she could come there if she ever needed a “little rest.” She doesn’t expect to get roped into attending a One Force Study Session, and she doesn’t expect it change her life. But that’s exactly what happens.

Dr. Colby, the group’s leader, seems to understand her as no one ever has. In the following weeks, as Stephanie attends trainings and gains the wisdom of his teachings, she can feel her old values drop away like garbage. It’s exhilarating to liberate herself from her own selfishness. But to continue her work with the group, she needs a favor from her older sister Ari, who has Down Syndrome and lives at home.

On one hand, Ari is happy to be asked. It feels good to have another secret with Steffi, just like their Pinky Swear about the Teenage Pregnancy. On the other hand, the “special favor” doesn’t seem right. And why does Steffi say the trainings are the only important thing? She might be doing a very big mistake. But if Ari tells, Steffi will go back to how she was before, that she said don’t come up to her in the halls, and don’t hug and don’t talk. She could lose Steffi forever. Ari has to decide what’s more important.

And Stephanie must decide how much she’s truly willing to give up for One Force.

HALFWAY TO ANYWHERE is a 97,000 word work of literary fiction, with chapters alternating between Stephanie’s third-person view and Ari’s first-person view.

I am a freelance writer and member of a weekly critique group. I blog at (link). My freelance articles are linked on my website, (link). HALFWAY TO ANYWHERE is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
A. Novelist

***

My thoughts:

This author said she’s received a whole bunch of form rejections in the last couple of weeks, and doesn’t know why. So I’ll try to answer the “why.”

The query gets off to a rough start. I’m not excited about an 18-year-old, probably depressed about some breakup, “lying in bed for three days.” I already don’t want to spend time with her. The second sentence introduces the concept of One Force, which is at first confusing since we don’t know what it is; but by the third sentence I was realizing this was going to be a story about a girl getting sucked into a cult, and my interest was flagging.

I think the first paragraph needs to go. There are quite a few wasted words that don’t add to my understanding or enjoyment of the story. Lying in bed for three days? Some guy told her to drop by? These are totally irrelevant. The important thing in this paragraph is that a college freshman gets sucked into a cult. You could just start with something simple like that, because the real story starts later.

Paragraph #2: The first three sentences explain what’s happening in the story, but they’re not all that interesting. I’m having trouble envisioning chapter after chapter of Stephanie gaining wisdom and liberating herself from her selfishness. What’s that look like on the page? It’s a lot of internal work and it sounds like a lot of talking. I don’t get a hint of how the novel might show Stephanie’s internal changes through external actions, relationships, decisions.

The last sentence of that paragraph takes an odd turn, and I honestly don’t know what to think of it, so I just keep reading.

Paragraph #3: The POV switch is awkward for me. Took me a couple sentences to realize what had happened, so I stumbled and had to go back and read again. (I wouldn’t recommend an out-of-the-blue POV switch like this in a query.) Once I understood and read the whole paragraph, I felt like Ari’s voice was a bit forced and her naive view of Stephanie seemed overplayed.

With the end of that paragraph, plus the single sentence of paragraph #4, we have what looks like the central conflict.

Conflict is good, but it has to be interesting conflict, and I’m not sure there’s enough here to capture me. I don’t know what Stephanie wants from Ari, and I’m not sure whether knowing it would increase my interest at all.

I also have the same problem at the end that I did in the very first sentence: Why should I like or care about this protagonist enough to stick with her? She’s trying to pull something over on her innocent sister, which seems just plain cruel.

Where is the jeopardy? Who am I supposed to root for? Am I supposed to feel bad for Stephanie because she’s been brainwashed by the cult? What are the stakes here?

Seems like a cult story should have really high stakes. What’s going to happen if Stephanie doesn’t get out of it? Should I be worried for Ari?

There is not enough here to convey a story with tension, rooting interest, characters we care about, and a reason to keep turning the page. For all I know, this book could be a fantastic read but the query’s not making it seem that way. So I think you need to go back and find the tension; identify the stakes. What’s going to make me care about this story?

You also have an odd situation of two unreliable narrators, and I’m not sure it’s going to work. I can’t trust Stephanie because she’s under cult influence; I know Ari might not always see things clearly because of her innocence. In the right hands, two unreliable narrators could make for a story crackling with tension and twists; but I’m not sensing that’s the case here.

This query might garner more interest if it were rewritten in a way that really highlights the conflict and makes me care about the outcome. I’d also leave out calling it “literary fiction” and call it women’s fiction instead.

Hope that helps!

Readers: Your thoughts?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

48 Comments

  1. wondering04 on April 14, 2010 at 6:13 AM

    >Thank you so much for posting query information. Each time you critique one I learn. I have a question about book titles. I have written a nonfiction manuscript and for the life of me an having a hard time giving it a name that is short, sweet, and catchy. I can give a descriptive title that works, but not one that I think would garner interest. Do agents and publishers change titles if they don't like the one you chose? How do you name your book?



  2. prashant on April 12, 2010 at 5:18 AM

    >The first paragraph didn't interest me at all. In fact, with the mention about the guy and "dropping by", it just made me think of a random sexual encounter and that she ended up in some weird orgy called The Force
    home jobs india



  3. Christine on April 9, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    >"After three days of lying in bed with her life crumbling around her"

    This sentence is where I was lost, and if the book starts out the same way, then it isn't one I'd want to read – I'm thrown into the negative space of the character's life without having been through the cause with her. It seems like the story should start a bit earlier to give the reader an idea of the stakes. And while the Down Syndrome character may have been written well (not just a type) in the story, that isn't coming across well in the query. The query makes her sound like a "character," not a person. Perhaps as an exercise, you could try writing that paragraph from her point of view and then incorporate the important parts back into your own voice and working from there. Good luck!



  4. Timothy Fish on April 8, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    >Sharon,

    Save the Cat has become something of my writing Bible. The other two cat books are as good, in my opinion, but they are worth getting too.



  5. Mel on April 8, 2010 at 2:12 AM

    >I agree entirely with your comments, Rachelle. As a ghostwriter, I have a constant battle with clients who wish to philosophize adding material that doesn't advance the story, rather than get to the action … to tell all manner of things, rather than show the reader what's happening. The letter of approach suffers similarly too, but on a smaller scale.

    I will be copying your comments to any clients who have this problem. Thanks.



  6. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    >shuygjgd



  7. Nick Saw on April 7, 2010 at 8:44 PM

    >This is wildly helpful. Thank you so much.



  8. Patrick Brian Miller on April 7, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    >How brave this query writer is! And what an excellent attitude. Thank you for allowing your query to be posted and disected in public. I've always appreciated constructive criticism far more than praise. Indeed, it is much more valuable to the writing. No need for me to add any more; I think everyone else has donated quite a fortune.



  9. M Clement Hall on April 7, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    >As always, very instructive to read the Agent's thought process and analysis.
    More please — many more!



  10. annegreenwoodbrown on April 7, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    >My first impression was that the "Study Session" was a college study group led by a professor, Dr. Colby. Because of that bad assumption, I was lost for paragraph 2.

    When I got my bearings, it switched to Ari, and I was lost again.

    My overall opinion is this query is three times longer than it should be.

    I say that with love and respect; query writing is toughest thing I've ever done (with possible exception of child birth)



  11. Jan Rider Newman on April 7, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    >I agree with your assessment. There isn't enough here to give me a feel of what's at stake or who the good guys are. Maybe it's the query letter. I'm not so hot at those myself.



  12. Rachelle on April 7, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    >I'm super impressed by today's query writer, and her attitude of wanting to learn from all this critique. It can be hard to take (I realize) and I really appreciate the positive spirit and willingness to rework based on feedback.

    And thanks everyone for contributing your thoughts respectfully.



  13. Sharon A. Lavy on April 7, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    >"blush" Someone recommended that I READ the book. Sheesh.



  14. Sharon A. Lavy on April 7, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    >I just have to share something.

    I can't remember how long ago someone recommended I real "Save The Cat!"

    I have an addiction to books. If I am interested in a subject I have to own all the books I can find on the subject. But another book on story structure? I own over 300 books to help me on different parts of the writing craft. In fact I have to keep a list to keep from buying those I already own. And anyway this is really about screenwriting?

    Recently on one of my loops this book came up again. I ordered it from Amazon and it is blowing my socks off.

    It will be so helpful before I even begin to write my next manuscript.

    You work on the sentences that will help agent and editor sell the book before writing one sentence of the actual story. And it keeps you on tack when writing the story.

    Now to see if I can convert it to real life as a writer.



  15. lauradroege on April 7, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    >I can't add much in the way of critique of this query letter. Everyone else has taken care of it nicely!

    Anonymous Writer, I am impressed with your ability to handle constructive criticism with such a positive attitude. I wish I was like you in that way! 🙂



  16. Tamika: on April 7, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    >I agree from the beginning I am a bit confused.

    The cult arc sounds like it could be interesting though. Keep working at it!



  17. jessjordan on April 7, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    >My 2 cents:

    Get rid of the first paragraph, or at least rework it. My interest waned after the first couple of sentences, b/c there was no tension yet.

    Maybe give us a better idea of what One Force is supposed to be, b/c right now, I don't buy the whole, "My life sucks right now, and I need a break from my college dorm room, so I'm going to stay some place where I can take a litte break from it all." If Stephanie really goes to this place she knows nothing about on the words of some guy she'd just met, well … that doesn't sit right with me.

    I really felt like I needed to know what the favor was. If it's some pivotal point in the book that you can't disclose, then I get leaving it out, but I need something to make it interesting in the query.

    The POV change was very abrupt, and I had to stop and reread the third paragraph a couple of times before I got it. I'm not sure an agent will take that time.

    This sounds more like women's fiction than literary, but I could be wrong.

    I'd leave off the part about the first person/third person. You may have pulled it off well, but this kind of stuff typically requires skill. And since this is your first novel, you may scare away some agents with this.

    (As a side note: If Ari's POV is first person, then maybe the query should focus more on her? An older sister with Down Syndrome, potentially being taken advantage of by her younger sister, who's in a cult, sounds more clear than what you have in your query, and pretty interesting to me.)

    I've read on many agents blogs and websites that you don't need to include "____ is my first novel." It doesn't help the query any. In fact, it weakens your credentials somewhat.

    Okay. So maybe that was my 15 cents. Hopefully it helps, and best of luck!



  18. Dana Bryant on April 7, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    >Great advice. I am reminded that I need to remove the irrelevent. It cleans it up so nicely.

    There could be a great story here but like me, we think everyone is in our head and can follow.

    Often when I read over my edits a month later, I often say to myself, "what was I thinking?"



  19. Mira on April 7, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    >The last time you posted a query critique, Rachelle, I gave you such a hard time. I still wish I'd been more tactful – I forget to be tactful and just get like a bulldozer when I'm debating – I'm so sorry for that. It's a very bad habit of mine, and it needs to change.

    So, this time I really want to acknowledge how much time and effort you put into this critique. For free. That's very generous, since it benefits not just the author but everyone writing queries. Thank you!

    And clearly, this is incredibly helpful to the author! Definitely can't argue with that. 🙂

    In terms of the book, I found the story intriguing, but I agree with the feedback that the story arc isn't clear from the query. Alittle more clarity would really help.

    Good luck with your book, author! 🙂



  20. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    >One more comment from me (the author of the query) and then I promise I'll stop, as I don't want to take over the comment section! Just wanted to say that I've been reading and thinking about Rachelle's critique and everyone's comments all day, and have realized that I completely shortchanged Ari in the query! The book is half about her and HER story, after all – and I just….shirked it. Very, very strange. I also had a revelation that I have to share. And then I'll stop. I think query writing could be a personal growth exercise in that it forces you to try to see things from others' perspectives, and drop your OWN perspective (which as writers of the work we query, we are SO wedded to). It amazes me how caught up in my own perspective I've been, and it really took all of these comments to start to shake free of it.



  21. Carole on April 7, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    >I am in the process of writing a query letter and the part I found interesting about the letter was the last paragraph.

    Do agents want to have blog links and website addresses on a query? Is that helpful?



  22. T. Anne on April 7, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    >Highlighting conflict and making the reader care about the outcome, sounds like sage advice. I'll apply it my query as well. Thanks for the great post.



  23. Jane Steen on April 7, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    >My interest was flagging until we got to Ari. The POV switch wasn't so hard for me as I have a developmentally disabled child, and the bit about not coming up to Steffi in the halls and not hugging etc. was right on target – in fact that one sentence made me want to read your MS.

    I feel as if there's gold somewhere in this story, anonymous writer, but you may need to get your MS in front of some more people (critique group, beta readers) and do some more work before you query again.

    Rachelle, I haven't done enough research on this question so forgive me if you've written about it exhaustively, but I'm having trouble with defining "women's fiction". Any pointers?



  24. Amy Sue Nathan on April 7, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >Two things jumped out at me.

    1. There is nothing unusual about a depressed college girl (everyone has a bad day or bad week). What's unusual about the protag? She joins a cult.

    2. One Force sound military to me. I realized it was a cult but the name distracts me. The query reader shouldn't have to figure out it's a cult, it should be obvious. Someone telling the protag to go to One Force to relax doesn't make sense – is it a place or a group? Still sounded military to me. I think it needs much more of an explanation, even in a phrase or sentence.



  25. Care on April 7, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    >Anonymous Query writer,

    I so get the analogy of the three year old saying, "Mom I had a dream last night, did you see it?" 🙂

    Best wishes to you, I have a feeling you have great things in store for you!



  26. katharrmann on April 7, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    >I respectfully disagree with those who think this query letter should explain things more. I think it's often best to keep it as simple as possible. Try hooking the agent with a small paragraph … three or four powerful sentences that sum up your book; Very hard to do, but often very effective! But of course, different ideas may work better for you! It sounds like an interesting project!



  27. Katy McKenna on April 7, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    >It's great to see that the author weighed in here in the comments section. She has a wonderful attitude and reminds me of the contestants on American Idol about whom the judges say, "We've taken you down the last few weeks, but this week you came out here and blew us away. You didn't give up, but took in what we were saying and changed what you were doing. Good for you!"

    Congrats to the author for submitting her query, and thanks for allowing Rachelle and her readers to learn from her experience.



  28. Elizabeth Lynd on April 7, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    >Good comments here, but didn't see this, and wondering if the author should consider it–I had trouble with the name "One Force." Kept thinking "Air Force One," and so it kept me away from thinking fresh thoughts about your characters and the story at hand. It's not a bad name for a cult, necessarily, but why risk alienating or confusing a reader with that? Then again, it could be just me.



  29. Preston on April 7, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    >I'm someone who likes mystery and keeping the reader guessing, but this critique was a great example of why it is important to NOT keep the reader guessing in your query. I'm so used to writing ad copy that I know I'll have to fight my own instincts on this one.



  30. MJR on April 7, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    >I agree with commenter above that more needs to be explained. I wasn't sure what ONE FORCE was–at first I thought it was something military. Also, unless I didn't read it carefully, I'm not sure what favor she asks of her sister. I think you need to highlight what is good, admirable, strong about the MC. Right now I'm not sure she'd be sympathetic enough to garner interest. I'm also not sure I'd be that sympathetic to a character sucked into a cult because it suggests she's passive. But if she had a more compelling reason to get involved it might work (something really awful that happened to her–maybe more needs to be explained about teenage pregnancy and how that affected her).



  31. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    >Me again – the author of the query. I have now read all the comments (to this point) and again want to thank you – each of the comments has been instructive and honest, which is exactly what I crave. Thank you.

    I am going to let everything sink in (and read the crit and comments about a bazillion more times), then rework. This has given me a lot to think about. One thing I realized after reading the feedback is that I started the query in entirely the wrong place – the cult stuff actually happens towards the end of the novel! Sigh. A lot of other stuff happens first, but I think I got so in my head that I didn't see how weird it would be to skip that other stuff. It is almost as though I assumed that since I know the story inside and out, everyone else already does too – sort of like when a 3 year old says, "Mom, I had a dream last night, did you see it?"



  32. Laura Marcella on April 7, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    >The author didn't say what Steffi wants from Ari. Should she have? How much of the novel's surprises/twists should you reveal in a query?

    Thanks!



  33. Anonymous on April 7, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    >Hi Everyone,
    I'm the author of the query! First, Rachelle, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I'm going to be reading your critique over and over, because there's so much truth in it, and I can already tell it's going to take me a while to absorb it and then use it all effectively (but I will!) Thank you also to all the other commentors – I look forward to reading what you have to say and will definitely listen and then make use of it.

    It is amazing to me how HARD it is to write a good query (at least for me).

    This feedback is helping me tremendously and I hope it helps everyone else too.

    Yours in gratitude,

    Struggling query writer



  34. Katy McKenna on April 7, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    >I love stories with two unreliable witnesses! And I find it compelling that Ari is the older sister. I can see loads of potential for the sisters' relationship, because of the birth order not being what the reader would automatically expect.

    Of course, I'm already rooting for Ari to be her sister's heroine, saving her from a fate worse than cult, but the query itself did not lead me to believe such a development would take place.

    Rachelle, am I correct that it's fine to have the POV of more than one character represented in the query (as long as it's done smoothly), or should that type of treatment be saved for the synopsis?



  35. Gwen Stewart on April 7, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    >The name "Stephanie Miller" threw me…I knew I'd heard of her. Turns out, Stephanie Miller is a fairly well-known radio personality.

    I too think there could be a good story in here. I find the components of the cult/disabled sister interesting, but both must be handled VERY carefully in order to work, in my honest, amateur opinion (note the amateur part).

    Best wishes for this story and your writing!



  36. Care on April 7, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    >I was drawn in by the title Halfway to Anywhere.
    I love titles.
    I followed the voice of the writer into the second paragraph, then I became lost.

    What wonderful feedback. I hope with some changes it all comes together for the writer. I would be curious enough to know what happens to the main character and her sister.

    Rachelle on another note, if you don't mind me asking, I emailed my own query for critique from the webinar, but have not received an automated reply saying the query arrived to you.
    I emailed it using two separate addresses.
    I am new to all of this, is there something else I should do?

    Thank you!



  37. Timothy Fish on April 7, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    >My expectations got me on this one. My impressions went something like this: Bored college student, visits One Force House a recruiting center for young people who will battle evil across the galaxy. But wait, this guy is talking about “a ‘little rest’”. That could still be what I thought, since it is in quotes, but this could also be a novel about rape. Then there’s this study session and I’m thinking that Dr. Colby is the good guy and this is just a story about how Stephanie went from being a bored college student to being a committed Christian.

    Looking at it now, I realize that paragraph three does indicate a cult-like setting, but by that time I had been lulled to sleep. By the time I reach the last paragraph, I’m thinking that One Force is probably the name of some campus ministry the author is trying to sing the praises of and this is nothing but an agenda based story.

    Even as I look back as this, I don’t see much change here. We start out with her bored in her room and we end with her a member of a cult. For us to see transformation, I would like to see Stephanie either begin as a party animal and end up in the cult or begin as a bored student and end up being the leader of a group that opposes the cult. Or having her go fight evil in the galaxy would be good too.



  38. Krista Phillips on April 7, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    >I agree with your conclusions. At the end, I kept thinking, "Okay, but what happens??" I was also confused by the One Force… at first in the query I thought it was a Bible study or something (One Force = God?) But the more I read the more I got the cult feeling.

    Great critique, Rachelle! Thanks for sharing!



  39. Matthew Rush on April 7, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    >There isn't a whole lot to add to all this great advice but I will say some major grammar errors that struck me were these:

    "She might be doing a very big mistake." You don't do a mistake you make one.

    "that she said don’t come up to her in the halls" I think this should read when she said…

    I realize that this is most likely an attempt to write in the voice of the character with the developmental disability, but it doesn't work because the shift is so abrupt within the paragraph. Put it in italics, or quotes, or a separate paragraph. Or better yet, leave it out.

    I actually like the idea of the unreliable narrator and her untrustworthy sister. It sounds like a cool premise, but we have to care about the plot and this query does not lay it out in a way that makes me, as a reader, have to read more.



  40. Lisa Jordan on April 7, 2010 at 6:24 AM

    >Ugh, I don't know why, but my comments don't post the first time. I always have to rewrite them…

    Anyway…

    Rachelle, I love how you tell why a query doesn't work. That's so helpful. When I read the character's age, I assumed this was a YA novel, but then the author said it was literary fiction. The author needs to tighten her word choices, using stronger nouns and verbs to paint a vivid plot.



  41. Sharon A. Lavy on April 7, 2010 at 5:07 AM

    >Now if I could just apply this to MY query. It is easy to see what is not there in a query from someone else.

    But in my own I know the story and read between my own lines.

    Thanks Rachelle for another good lesson.



  42. Leigh Lyons on April 7, 2010 at 4:47 AM

    >Ultimately, the Query felt cliche and buzz-wordy to me. That's all I can say because Rachelle wrapped it up so nicely.



  43. Gehayi on April 7, 2010 at 3:48 AM

    >My take on this, as a reader and occasional reviewer:

    The point-of-view switches don't bother me. Neither do the two unreliable narrators. But the vagueness bothers me–I get the feeling that the person querying is trying to intrigue the agent by not telling too much. If I were an agent, that wouldn't work for me.

    The first sentence didn't attract my attention. I know that she's probably depressed, ill or both, but–having been that depressed–I know that it's not fun to be in that position, let alone to read about someone enduring so many crises that she's flattened for three days. Also, I don't know Stephanie yet, so I'm not invested in her problems and how she reacts to them. I haven't written the book off yet, but I would expect it to get off to a rather slow start.

    My first thought on reading the second sentence was "What's the One Force House?" Because of the Force reference, I wondered briefly if it was a rather nerdy frat house.

    The mention of the study session that changes Stephanie's life tells me this is probably a cult that uses positive thinking to draw people. I don't know, though, why this should change Stephanie's life, or why she couldn't figure out this was a cult and just leave. I'm not really enthused with this protagonist; she seems far more reactive than active.

    By the next paragraph, I'm still lost. I don't know what Colby understands about her, and I still don't know why she's listening to a cult leader. The next sentence, too, would mean more if I knew what she was being trained to do, what Colby's teachings ARE, and what Stephanie formerly valued.

    It’s exhilarating to liberate
    herself from her own selfishness.

    How is she liberating herself from selfishness? Is she giving all of her money to the cult? Donating her possessions to the poor? Burning the things she loves best? I need some specifics so that Stephanie and her problems will be more real to me.

    And then we get into the section about Ari, in which it is emphasized over and over that Ari has to do Stephanie a favor and keep it secret. But we're never told what that secret is. And the last line in the summary…well, it might be powerful if Stephanie had to make a choice between a strong relationship with her sister and the attraction and approval of the cult. But we've already seen that Ari is sure that if she tells on Stephanie, Stephanie won't talk to her, huge her or acknowledge her in public. It doesn't sound like the kind of relationship that could make or break cult membership; it sounds like Stephanie doesn't like her sister much and is just exploiting her sister's trust and need for love to get her to keep this secret.



  44. Abigail on April 7, 2010 at 3:07 AM

    >It didn't seem like a cult idea to me, but now that you mention it, I can see that it is a cult.

    I have to say the POV switch from Stephanie to Ari, it threw me off because I didn't understand what was happening. I didn't understand to get the feel that it was a cult because of this paragraph POV switch. It doesn't explain what the secret it is, it doesn't explain why Ari must keep this secret. Also, the teenage pregnancy? Maybe for a synopsis, but for a query, it doesn't seem relevant.

    Now, the first paragraph. The first paragraph didn't interest me at all. In fact, with the mention about the guy and "dropping by", it just made me think of a random sexual encounter and that she ended up in some weird orgy called The Force (o_O)

    Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking.



  45. ikw on April 7, 2010 at 2:37 AM

    >rachelle – your insights are fascinating.

    as a reader, i wasn't pulled into the plot, as it was suggested in the query. i'm not usually compelled by cult stories, but i do like the addition of the sister.
    but i agree with rachelle that in this format the favor comes off as cruel.



  46. Anne Lang Bundy on April 7, 2010 at 2:04 AM

    >My thought is you are one dedicated lady to give writers such a fair chance. My interest waned before I made it through paragraph one. I read paragraph two because this is Rachelle Gardner's blog, so something will be interesting.

    I didn't find it in the query. You're quite the trooper! Thank you for giving us a full page (or more) to catch your interest.



  47. E.D. Lindquist on April 7, 2010 at 1:57 AM

    >First, an entire salt shaker: I've written only a few queries and none of them have ultimately amounted to anything. So my opinion is really that of a reader, not an author. Also, I spend way too much time on Query Shark and tend to be a bit bitey.

    This query doesn't give me a sense of the pivotal events of the novel. Not knowing what the favor is, I can't say if I'm curious about it or about the girls' reactions to it. It leaves me feeling very vague.

    This line jumps out at me as an interest-killer: "She might be doing a very big mistake." I realize (I think) that this entire paragraph is written in Ari's voice, but that sort of incorrect English seems an unwise choice for a query. In these letters, we have less than a page to impress a prospective agent with our grip of the language. I don't think I'd deliberately undermine the attempt.

    I'm not sure about the narrators, either. Not in voice (I respectfully disagree with Ms. Gardner on that point), but in perspective. Switching between first- and third-person seems a little odd. If it works for the narrative (and I wouldn't know until I read the manuscript), then it works, but I don't think I'd discuss that in the query letter. Let it come out in the writing, especially since the query should be more about the story.

    I would definitely chuck the whole first paragraph. It's backstory, not the central plot, or so it seems. I'd focus on the moral choice surrounding whatever it is Stephanie is being asked to do. Only bring up the backstory afterward if it has some important bearing on what Stephanie might or might not do.

    I applaud your bravery in writing a POV character with Down's. That must have been quite a challenge. I wonder how it came out, but if I were an agent, that would be my only motivation in requesting a sample at this point.



  48. Aimee LS on April 7, 2010 at 1:40 AM

    >I love reading your thoughts, Rachelle, because they put words to the uneasiness in my gut when I read something that isn't working – in someone else's writing, or my own. Very helpful for both parties I'm sure.

    Thanks for the insight!



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